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Mental health crisis: Matters arising

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Shadow of a man in dep thought. PHOTO:HR review

At her retirement ceremony as Lagos State Head of Service, Mrs. Folashade Adesoye raised an alarm over the number of civil servants with mental health challenges in the service. Putting the figure at 100, 000, she called for an urgent action to deal with the menace.

Her alarm must have been caused by reports of workers who may have under-performed, failed to show up for work or who displayed psychotic behaviour.

In recent times, the number of citizens with mental disorders has increased. Sadly, this is an aspect of mental health that has generally been treated with levity arising from ignorance.

The reasons for the deteriorating situation are not too far to seek.

First, the state of the economy and break down of cultural and social bulwarks are fundamental to understanding the increase in mental health crisis.

The extended family system, which used to protect individuals, has virtually collapsed. Social and economic pressures arising from statutory obligations have increased.

School fees must be paid. Most civil servants do not nearly earn enough to pay their rents particularly in the big cities.

Some have spouses and dependants who are out of jobs. Added to this in some cases is the responsibility of looking after elderly parents.

Most of these parents do not get their pension as at when due. Siblings therefore share the burden of providing for their parents from their meager incomes.

Also, the incidence of wives becoming the breadwinner has increased. Most Nigerian men cannot accept this psychologically and tend to react in an unhealthy manner.

Also, some people have been victims of substance abuse. Such toxic substances as marijuana (also called gbana, wee wee, Mary Jane, Ganja, Goof), cocaine, methadone, tramadol, codeine, glue, dry banana leaves, petrol fumes, fumes from pit latrines and shoe polish also lead to distortion of mental perception and sometimes death. These are some of the reasons why some slide into depression, either mild or severe.

It is against this background too that we may appreciate the increase in suicide cases. In the last one year, the Third Mainland Bridge has become a notorious spot for suicides.

The cheap and ubiquitous insecticide ‘Sniper’ has also become a ready tool for terminating life.

Some students who fail examinations easily end their lives. Hanging is also another method employed by victims of mental depression.

After a long period of questioning their self-worth some have taken the rather unfortunate route of ‘ending it all.’ It would seem that reporting suicides on social media reinforces that unfortunate experience as an option.

No doubt, mental disorders are a universal scourge. They affect all classes of persons irrespective of age, class, sex or status. Only last week, a popular Disc jockey in Lagos abruptly ended his life after his wife left him.

Prominent and apparently successful CNN reporter, Anthony Bourdain took his life in a hotel while on an assignment in France.

Some other big names in the entertainment sector across the world, people who gave happiness to others but were psychologically depressed, also ended their lives.

A three hundred level female student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria took her life in December last year after protracted disagreements with her mother.

Last year, a civil servant took his life in Kogi State, after leaving a suicide note in which he referenced inability to meet his financial obligations. Depression is indeed a serious ailment that needs urgent and consistent attention.

As a result of ignorance, stigmatization and superstition, mental disorders are treated in hushed tones, especially in our environment.

Most people reject the very idea of visiting a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They erroneously believe that it is only people who are ‘mad’ that need to visit a psychiatrist hospital. This rejection is at the core of the crisis.

Victims would rather visit prayer houses than go to the hospital. Charlatans with spurious claims get the better of these mentally-ill people.

In such homes, they preach the narrative that mental illnesses are caused by evil spirits.

Patients are therefore subjected to harsh and violent treatment to exorcize them of spirits. This is unacceptable in this age that knowledge drives.

Any worker or individual who suffers a mental breakdown can be treated by experts and caregivers.

Most usually regain their health, return to work and lead a normal life. They are obliged to be on regular medication for specified periods. They are not to be stigmatised or sacked from work.

The family support system is needed to nurse them back to full health. In the workplace, there should be empathy not derision or suspicion.

Therefore, as a first step, there should be a mental health awareness campaign. The NGOs should be encouraged to educate the public on how to deal with suicidal thoughts.

The governments at different levels should introduce social security programmes that will reduce the stress of modern life.

More mental health personnel – nurses, psychologist and psychiatrists – should be trained and their services made available at minimal costs. The cost of medication for the mentally-ill should be highly subsidised by government.

The psychiatrist hospitals should be properly equipped and provided for. Existing legislation on mental health should be revisited with a view to updating them.

For example, in Nigeria, much against contemporary trends, attempted suicide or the act itself is criminalised.

By extant law, any citizen who attempts suicide and is rescued will serve a mandatory one-year sentence. Suicide victims deserve empathy not punishment.

Furthermore, counseling centres should be opened across the country where troubled citizens can receive expert advice. The Federal Ministry of Health should liaise with the states’ Ministries of Health to create the necessary awareness.

If as reported the Federal Ministry of Health does not have a desk officer for mental health, urgent steps should be taken to redress this anomaly.

Help lines should be created across the country through which persons needing counseling and other forms of assistance could be reached. The age-long tradition of being our brothers’ keepers should be restored.

A listening ear and prompt action could make a difference in the lives of people who live on the fringes.


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